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Stephen Lewis calls on Ottawa to step up as Nunavut grapples with TB 'crisis'

Founder of AIDS-Free World wrapped up trip to Nunavut to meet with people affected by disease

CBC News

September 11, 2017

Stephen Lewis, seen in this file photo, spoke in Iqaluit this weekend about the federal government's handling of the TB 'crisis' in Nunavut. (Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press)

The Government of Nunavut is not getting the support it needs from the federal government to address the territory's ongoing tuberculosis "crisis," says activist and health advocate Stephen Lewis. 

Lewis, the co-director of the AIDS-Free World organization, was in the territory for a fact-finding mission this past week with the Nunavut health department and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

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He visited Iqaluit and Igloolik, meeting with people who have been affected by the disease and others working for a solution.

"There is a TB crisis in Nunavut at this very moment," Lewis said in a media release.

"There are 14 out of 25 disparate communities wrestling with active and latent cases, many of them children. The numbers are small, but they loom very large in a population of roughly 35,000."

The tuberculosis rate in Nunavut is 26 times the national average. In February, Canada's auditor general highlighted gaps in Nunavut's health care system, particularly language barriers with Inuit patients.  

Lewis said he had five points to make about the issue.

"I have no issues with the Government of Nunavut or the [territorial] department of health," Lewis said. "It seems to me that they're making an admirable effort to deal with TB and all the underlying social elements.

Ileen Kooneeliusie, from Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, was 15 when she died in January from tuberculosis. (submitted by Geela Kooneeliusie and Matthew Kilabuk)

"My issue is with the federal government. I didn't know that would be the case when I came to Nunavut, I certainly know that now."

He is calling on Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to fund a program to eradicate TB in Nunavut, train Inuktitut-speaking nurses and deal with the underlying social issues. 

He's also calling on Ottawa to issue an apology to Inuit and provide the resources to help family members travel to the graves of loved ones who died in the south while being treated for TB.

"The time has come for all the rhetoric about reconciliation and partnership to be given credence," Lewis said.

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